A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Slaughter Horses in U.S.? Or Export them?

We race them, ride them, take them to war, treat them as horsepower. What to do with horses when they grow old or are no longer economically useful?

In 2005, 94,000 horses were sent to slaughterhouses in the U.S. Two years later, commercial slaughtering in this country came to an end. Instead, they’re now carted away in trucks or on trains to be killed hundreds or thousands of miles away in Mexico and Canada.

Most people agree, the long journey to the death house makes it worse for a horse. So, should we just kill them all in the U.S.? Or send them off to other countries so we don’t have to do the dirty work here. Humane organizations take different points of view.

Bloomberg News is better known for business news than for animal protection debates, but it captures the whole issue in an article about horse export v. horse slaughter, noting that 197,442 horses were trucked to other countries last year, more than double the number in 2007, when domestic slaughter ended, and more than six times what it was a decade ago.

The debate comes on the heels of the uproar in Europe after horsemeat was found in the ground beef at supermarkets, as well as in frozen dinners and restaurant food. (We first reported on that here, and more recently commented on it here.) Bloomberg reports that the ensuing outcry “devastated consumer demand for suddenly suspect beef” in Europe, and quotes the public health and nutrition expert Marion Nestle as saying that promoting horsemeat in the U.S. could end up devastating the beef industry here, too.

“We don’t eat animals with names,” she said. “We don’t eat dogs, we don’t eat cats, and we are horrified when people do. The same is true of horses.”

Bloomberg’s Amanda J. Crawford talks to people in Roswell, NM (of UFO fame), where there’s broad support for a horsemeat factory. One truck driver tells her that “if people are fine with the smell a slaughterhouse inevitably brings, ‘I don’t see a problem with it.'”

But a local oil and gas worker says, “I hate to think we’ve sunk that low.”

Vanessa Reyes, a local cosmetologist, takes the point of view that “As long as it doesn’t harm anyone, community-wise, go for it. Eat a horse.” She apparently doesn’t consider the possibility that it might harm the horse.

sappington-012613And Tim Sappington (right), who works at the Valley Meat Company, a slaughterhouse for cows in Roswell, NM, thinks it’s a great idea. He already slaughters horses non-commercially. And seems to do it for fun, too. A report last week by KOB-TV, Albuquerque, includes a video of him bringing a horse out of her pen, cursing at people from animal protection groups, and then shooting the horse dead. (You can see the video here.)

Valley Meat wants to end the ban on domestic horse slaughter, but already has a rather poor record regarding the cows it kills. According to Bloomberg:

Government documents … report maggot-infested piles of decaying animals as high as 15 feet on the property. State inspectors cited Valley Meat in 2010 … The company paid a $5,000 fine and removed the waste.

The ASPCA comments that horse slaughter is “inherently inhumane”, noting that unlike cows, who tend to remain still while being stunned, horses will move their heads, which can leave them still conscious while they’re being dismembered. And for humans, horse meat can also be toxic because of the chemicals they’re given for conditions like arthritis. “They’re much more a companion animal than a food animal,” Nancy Perry tells Bloomberg. They’re not raised for human consumption.”

And a Bloomberg editorial takes up the ethical issues:

In our anxiety to be more humane, we have subjected the animals to a long and inhumane truck ride before they meet the same end in other countries.

At Treehugger, Chris Tackett compares the debate to the proposed Keystone oil pipeline that will import oil from the environmentally disastrous Canadian tar sands:

Proponents of the pipeline argue that whether we allow the pipe or not, the oil from Canada’s tar sands will be burned either way, so we might as well benefit from oil and burn it here. … [On the other hand, that’s] like saying that because some immoral thing is happening elsewhere, we should do it here, as well.

But slaughtering horses isn’t like importing oil. Oil isn’t a living creature who’s spent a lifetime working for her owner, making money for him on the racecourse, hauling a cart around on a farm, or, perhaps worst of all, dragging a carriage full of inane tourists around the streets and parks of New York City and sometimes even collapsing on the streets.

Comparing how we treat horses to how we treat cows or dogs or any other animals is irrelevant. The issue is basically quite simple and has nothing to do with economics or business or how many jobs could be created in Roswell if they started slaughtering horses. The question is simply: How should horses be treated?

And the answer is equally simple: with kindness, caring and respect. Give them a good life and a good retirement. Treat them well and care for them. And when it comes to the philosophical niceties of whether to slaughter them here or send them to another country, the answer is: Neither. Just like you and me, they’d rather be alive.